GingerDog, My Companion On My Path To RecoveryLearn To Fly by Tom Petty
Sixteen and a half years is a long time. Sixteen years ago I was 29. I was in the midst of the worst days of my eating disorder. The day prior, I had left treatment, the day before on my birthday. Returning to my parent’s home was, in essence, returning to my same old problems, yet, unknowingly to me, there was something new and different waiting for me. Sitting with my dad at the breakfast table, I noticed two small bowls on the floor. I quickly gave an inquisitive look at my dad who shrugged his shoulders, doing a rather poor job of acting as though he knew nothing, but the twinkle in his eye only gave him away. Strangely, my mom had not yet welcomed me home. After about half an hour of waiting, my mom finally enters, almost announcing herself with a little bundle of white fur in her hands. An 8 week old toy poodle white with cream markings. I was captivated by her.
What GingerDog Taught Me About Recovery
Ginger was my steady and constant companion throughout the long years of my eating disorder recovery and she accompanied me through the darkest times of my eating disorder. Patiently and lovingly she sat with me, just simply content to be with me. Never frustrated with how long it was taking me to change, heal and recover, she taught me to be more patient with myself. Never judging me for the things I judged myself for, GingerDog taught me about self-acceptance. She just liked me and wanted to be with me. That’s all, nothing more. As I reflect on those days, her acceptance of me during the worst days was a gift from the Great Spirit reminding me that I was not alone. I believe we are given signs all the time that we are not alone in our suffering. As my shadow, she never let me forget that.
What GingerDog Taught Me About ME!
Ginger was a little “spicy” thus fitting her name. Though she desired to please me, Ginger was not shy in stating her wants and was she easily controlled. She would snap without regard but seldom bite. She was a natural at standing her ground, stating her boundaries. As I learned to respect her boundaries, I became aware of my own and learned what it meant to respect them as well as myself. She was a natural at getting her needs met. If she didn’t want to be held, she would pull away, if she didn’t want to be pet, she would simply walk away. Wanting to be close yet also wanting her own space, her favorite spot was at the end of the sofa instead of what I WANTED, which was for her to be in my arms. She taught me that it was ok to have my own space even if others wanted me closer. If she wanted to go for a walk, she would stare at me until I walked her. It took a very long time for her to accept ‘no’ and when she finally did, she would give me a rather subdued but obvious guttural noise letting me know she was not pleased. She had to have the last word. Teaching me that my voice and opinions matter. Thus, she taught me to never give up and that my opinions matter. My eating disorder shamed me from knowing these things. Just as my eating disorder was a constant companion, GingerDog was a very real representation of how I was learning to listen to my healthy self. She taught me how to take care of myself by how she took care of herself. What I mean is that she taught me how to take care of her by how she communicated her wants and needs to me. She taught me to listen to her. This was such a valuable lesson for me as I had no idea how to communicate my needs and wants whether it was to myself or to others. Communicating with her eyes and her little barks and other verbalizations made me work hard to understand what she wanted and needed from me. And, though she persisted in getting what she wanted, she had no qualms about revealing her frustration at me by barking louder. As I learned what each stare or verbalization meant, I learned how to listen with patience and intent. Something that has served me well as I have learned to listen to my own internal language that is so often difficult for me to understand.
I wanted to do right by her, my little companion, because I understood and accepted my responsibility for her. I valued her so very much that doing the hard things like cleaning up after she puked, because of her sensitive stomach issues, taught me about the importance of service. GingerDog gave me so very much but there were things she could not do for herself. She needed me just as much as I needed her. Being there for her in the tough things helped me learn how to be there for myself. Her loving consistent acceptance of me taught me how to lovingly accept myself. The tough times aren’t pretty, they can actually be pretty messy and nasty just like her puke but seeing how willing I was to be there for her in her needs helped me realize how really capable I am in being there for myself when I am in a nasty place. She didn’t like being stinky and uncomfortable when she had puked or when she was gross from having poop stuck to her back side. She would let me know by the way her little nub of a tail would drop and she would rub against my leg signaling to me that she was in need of my help. She taught me not to be embarrassed by need for help. Because of my love for her and my understanding of her need, although unpleasant, I felt no hesitation to help her. I began to understand and I experienced a shift in my awareness around the expression of love and how it shapes our actions. Something I have continued to grow in my understanding. The shame I felt around my needs and wants was shifting as I allowed GingerDog to teach me about love. She loved me through some very dark times and I loved her right back. I shared my path with her as I developed my career as a therapist and when I fell in love and married my best friend. She was my sweet furry companion.
What GingerDog Continues to Teach Me
Ginger left this world a month ago today. I am honored to have shared our lives together. As I sat with her in my arms as she left this world I thought of all the times she just sat with me, time and time again, when I so wanted to leave my own. Licking me, reminding me she was there with me. My companion never leaving me. As I held her frail, tiny, old worn out body in my arms and she took her last breath, I honored her spirit and her companionship. She was 16 and ½ years old. She had been with me through so very much. Although stronger and healthier than I have ever been, in her passing, she taught me that I am never really alone nor should feel shameful in who I am. She loved me and accepted me just as I was, messy and gross, as I struggled on my crazy road to recovery from my eating disorder and healing from what led to it. She left this physical world but what she taught me has been imprinted on my heart. I learned so very much from her about how to live an authentic life. I miss her dearly, and as I worry if I am really able to do this thing called life, I grieve her presence, but I feel her with me, in me, reaching out to me, touching me, and reminding me that just as I was enough for her to be my companion, I continue to be enough in all my relationships and connections. She reminds me that I am not alone and that I will never be alone. GingerDog loved me for who I was, never communicated to me, through her eyes, nor her grunts, that I was not enough for her. She continues to remind me that I do not have to be more than I am for I AM enough and loved just the way I am. RIP my dear one. Thank you for your lessons, your companionship, your acceptance and most of all your continued unconditional love.
Namaste—the deepest part of me has been touched by the deepest part of you. Thank you, GingerDog.
I chose the song Learning to Fly by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers because it represents my learning to fly on my own apart from the things that hold me down. When I hear the song I think of the lessons GingerDog has taught me. Learn to use my wings and fly. My wings are enough to hold me. I can trust them because I can trust myself just as GingerDog instinctively knew. Thank you, Ginger for teaching me that I can instinctively know it too.
The wisdom of emptiness may seem strange or even alarming to you to read especially if you struggle with an eating disorder or an addiction because it is emptiness that we feel and want to avoid that compels us to use these behaviors in the first place. This is not new information within the recovery world, and I want to be careful to avoid triggering the eating disorder or addiction voice by saying these words but there is wisdom in emptiness.
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